The seeds of the Foundation were planted in 1990 when its founder, John Poindexter, embarked on a large-scale restoration of the historic Cibolo Creek Ranch in Presidio County, TX. This effort evolved into the restoration of eight rural properties in the Tidewater region of Virginia, initiated in 2012. What Poindexter started as a private individual has become the principal objectives of a dedicated charitable institution. Founded in 2020, the Tidewater and Big Bend Foundation has focused its considerable resources on restoring and providing public access to historic properties in both Virginia and Texas. The Foundation, including its Board of Trustees and staff, together with its founder John Poindexter and his local management teams, operates with common goals.
The immediate purpose of the Foundation is the public exhibition of restored properties that illustrate major aspects of rural life in Tidewater Virginia and the Big Bend region of far West Texas from the colonial period through the later 19th century. This complex effort involves rehabilitating historic structures and making them accessible to the public and offering the same type of experience that may be enjoyed at hundreds of other sites in the United States. However, the Foundation further anticipates the reconstruction of service buildings, such as barns, farm offices, granaries, dairies, stables and enslaved worker cabins in order to recreate the domestic and agricultural settings of these historic homes. To complete this effort, the properties have been or will be endowed with actively cultivated agricultural fields, pastures, animal herds and managed forests. In the Big Bend region, the Foundation additionally seeks to acquire and restore expanses of undeveloped land for conservation and public enjoyment.
The Foundation’s long-term goal is to play a productive and meaningful role within the nationwide effort to render American history and historic sites accessible to the public. This is especially important for America’s youth to bolster their education in history, civics, geography and related subjects.
The Foundation intends to offer an approachable, enjoyable and educational experience within Tidewater Virginia — a region critical to an understanding of the United States’ formative years, and far West Texas. In Virginia, the Foundation’s properties enjoy proximity to numerous sites of major historical significance, including the James River Plantations, Jamestown Island, Colonial Williamsburg, Richmond, Yorktown and Hampton Roads. It is expected that visitors who come to the region to tour the well-known sites at Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Richmond will be drawn to nearby New Kent County to experience these exemplars of rural Virginia life. The Big Bend Region of far West Texas attracts worldwide visitors to experience the Big Bend National Park as well as to experience cultural attractions in and around Marfa.
Through restoration of its historic properties and conservation of land, the Foundation intends to offer an accurate depiction of the rich but complex domestic history of these regions. This narrative explores the rapid and productive settlement of frontier lands, the development of a vigorous, independent yeoman population and a prosperous landowning class that all made remarkable contributions to a young nation and to the world at large. It does not avoid the acknowledgment that much of this relied upon forced labor. The Foundation intends to honestly explore this aspect of each property and to commemorate the lives of those enslaved. In West Texas the Foundation works with archeologists, biologists and other experts to eradicate invasive species, control erosion, nurture native species, document early archeological sites and improve roads to make these areas accessible to the public.
The attainment of the Foundation’s ambitious goals presents a meaningful structural and intellectual challenge. This challenge is expected to be met not simply through restoration and recreation of buildings and agricultural installations, but with innovative exhibits, furnishings, decorations, conventional audiovisual and computer-generated images, fixed displays and human and automated guides. Development of a visitor center, outreach activities and educational programs are among the Foundation’s long-term goals.
The precursor operations of the Foundation in Virginia began in 2012 with the purchase of roughly 800 acres at an auction of New Kent real estate. One decade later, the Foundation’s inventory of assets in Virginia includes 5,200 acres, almost all in central New Kent County; a total of 10 residential buildings, of which eight are historically significant; and an array of equipment, vehicles and furnishings. The Foundation employs approximately 20 full-time, part-time and contract workers to manage its affairs.
This undertaking evolved from John Poindexter’s initial intent to purchase Criss Cross Plantation, a well-preserved New Kent County property established by his direct ancestor, George Poingdestre, in the 1680s. While attempts to purchase Criss Cross have remained unsuccessful, this effort led to the establishment of the Tidewater and Big Bend Foundation. John Poindexter’s involvement in the Big Bend began with his acquisition and restoration of Cibolo Creek Ranch in 1990.
The Foundation itself was established in 2020 and funded with a sizeable cash contribution, a moderate portion of which has been spent on recent property purchases. Over the next several years, the Foundation expects to benefit from further cash infusions and additional contributions of assets from Mr. Poindexter in New Kent, Presidio and adjoining counties. Some of the cash will be utilized to increase the Foundation’s inventory of buildings and acreage as additional historical properties become available.
Poindexter presently owns only Cumberland Estate and one contemporary home, having recently donated his historical Moss Side Manor and Cedar Lane Plantation properties. The Foundation now owns Shuttlewood, Spring Hill, South Garden, Hampstead, Mount Stirling in addition to Moss Side Manor and Cedar Lane.
The Foundation is actively evaluating acquisition prospects in Presidio County, TX. There are several large projects currently under consideration. Much of the land available in the area is in need of extensive investment to control erosion, eradicate invasive species and establish habitat for native species.
The accumulation of land in New Kent and on the border of New Kent in Charles City County has proceeded with haste and is viewed with a certain degree of perplexity by some local residents. The haste is due to the pace of real estate development in the area as more and more property, including historical sites, is purchased for commercial and residential exploitation. Local perplexity is most likely due to Poindexter’s reluctance to discuss the Foundation’s activities while it was still in its formative stages.
New Kent and Charles City are the last two counties in the region between greater Richmond and the Atlantic Ocean with extensive forests and agricultural lands and relatively sparse populations. New Kent bestrides I-64 and is a principal focus of regional development as both Williamsburg and Richmond expand into the east and west ends of the county.
The Foundation will address a small, local segment of our nation’s cultural future with confidence, dedicated to the proposition that its substantial resources will be productively employed in attaining its social goals. Rapid development in the Tidewater and Big Bend regions have accelerated the Foundation’s mission. Foundation friends and staff are moving quickly to identify historical structures and raw land for conservation. The moral support of the Foundation’s friends and neighbors is solicited to help ensure this desirable outcome.
The Foundation desires to counterbalance and complement the accelerating residential, retail and commercial development in its regions. Working with public officials is paramount to this effort. It remains to be seen whether the New Kent Board of Supervisors will enforce its comprehensive plan for residential and commercial development, which encourages planned residential communities of all income categories and commercial installations — but behind adequate wooded buffers. It may elect, further, to resist the entreaties of the promoters of solar ‘farms’ and shopping centers. If it does, the buildings of the Foundation and its farms and forests will have an admirable and compatible environment in which to engage the public.
The Foundation’s properties will offer a refuge from the wall-to-wall real estate development that already has engulfed much of New Kent’s neighboring counties. In Texas, the Foundation will open once private land and historical buildings to the public. Regardless of the surrounding environment, the Foundation’s educational and outreach initiatives will continue to mature and produce visible results.